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  • Pantry Challenge – Week 1 Update

    I decided to join the Pantry Challenge at Good Cheap Eats last week, with the goal of using up some random ingredients I have on hand:

    Ronzoni Healthy Harvest egg noodles
    Sweetened condensed milk
    Canned cannelli beans

    From this list, I used one package of egg noodles to make what was supposed to be Tuna Noodle Casserole, but as I posted on Facebook, I totally forgot the tuna and ended up with a sort of macaroni and cheese dish. It still tasted good, and I did use up a bag of noodles, but I felt rather foolish for forgetting the “tuna” in “tuna casserole.”

    I also used about 1 1/2 cups of cornmeal to make calamari (I soak the squid in buttermilk, then coat in seasoned cornmeal and fry).

    I realized that having a written-out menu plan will help me use up these items faster, although the only items I worked into this week’s plan are the cannellini beans (in Friday’s soup) and more cornmeal for cornbread. But I’m also using up a couple items that aren’t on the list, like an almost full but open bottle of red wine with tonight’s short ribs, and the carton of cream of mushroom soup that’s already open in the fridge.

    Also, now that both kids are back in school, I’m hoping to have some time to bake, which should help me use up some condensed milk and jam. I’ll probably make some Key Lime Bars to used up the condensed milk, since it’s been a while.

    I am going to have to think harder about how to use up the rest of these ingredients in the coming weeks . . .

    Kitchen Tip: Rescue Burnt Cookies

    It’s cookie baking season, so I thought I’d share a handy tip in case anyone forgets about the cookies in the oven (not that it’s ever happened to me or anything, no sirree. yeah right). If the bottoms are too dark, simply take a microplane grater and scrape off the black part until you have a nice golden bottom.

    This works beautifully with other burnt items like grilled bread – mine always ends up burnt on the bottom when the cheese is browned and bubbly on top. I scrape the black parts off with my microplane to eliminate the burnt taste, and the rest of the pizza still tastes amazing.

    I’m baking cupcakes tomorrow, and I also need to do a big batch of cookies to include with my teacher gifts – hopefully I won’t need this tip but unfortunately, I do tend to be a little scatterbrained when I’m this busy!

    Do you have a favorite cookie recipe you could share with me? Thanks!

    Lead in Your Glazed Cookware

    A few weeks ago, Heavenly Homemakers mentioned an issue I’d never heard of before – that there’s a concern of lead in glazed ceramics, including the crocks of slow cookers.

    Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot of information out there. I Googled (or rather, Swagbucked) the issue and read enough to make me concerned enough to stop using my slow cookers (I have a 5-quart and a 1-quart). Then I remembered my favorite slow cooker recipe site, A Year of Slow Cooking, and found this post in which Stephanie says she was assured that Crock-Pot brand crocks don’t contain any lead.

    That’s the brand of my 5-quart cooker, but I’m not sure if I believe the company’s claim – and I haven’t used my slow cooker since. I’d like to keep using it, but my boys are very young and lead is so damaging to developing brains that I’m just not sure it’s worth the risk.

    In the meantime, I think for the holidays, I am going to ask for expensive Le Creuset cookware. They explicitly state in their FAQ that they don’t use lead, and explain how they use cadmium, so I tend to believe them. And I have to use something to cook my food in!

    But it looks like my oven is going to be getting a lot more use this winter. And hopefully by the summer, I’ll have a more definitive answer regarding slow cooker use.

    Pumpkin Gelato vs. Pumpkin Ice Cream

    After I made all that pumpkin puree last week, I promised the boys pumpkin ice cream. After all, we have an ice cream maker which somehow didn’t get any use during the summer. But we live in Southern California, so it’s plenty warm enough for ice cream still.

    However – among the various food allergies I have to deal with is a partial egg allergy, and I was uncomfortable with the amount of eggs called for by the homemade ice cream recipes I found. In searching for “eggless pumpkin ice cream,” I discovered that most gelato recipes don’t call for eggs, so I decided to make pumpkin gelato instead. If you’d like to make actual ice cream, I thought this David Lebovitz recipe sounded particularly good.

    I tried this New York Times Pumpkin Gelato recipe. I loved the texture – even though I’ve made ice cream before, I’m always amazed at how a sloshy liquid can gradually turn so creamy and thick.

    The taste of the gelato was unfortunately disappointing. I would add a lot more vanilla, cinnamon and sugar next time. Maybe even use a vanilla bean instead of vanilla extract for added depth of flavor.

    The kids didn’t like it either, but I’m very pleased to have discovered gelato for my ice cream maker. A big part of the reason I didn’t make ice cream this summer was the egg allergy concern, and now I have a viable and easy alternative. :)

    Pumpkin Puree: Homemade vs. Store Bought (with recipes)

    I bought some sugar pumpkins at Trader Joe’s and roasted them to make puree yesterday, so I thought I’d do a price comparison on homemade pumpkin puree vs. canned pumpkin.

    One can of organic pumpkin puree at Trader Joe’s is $1.99, and contains approximately 3.5 1/2 cup servings, or about 1.75 cups.

    Sugar pumpkins are $1.99 each at Trader Joe’s – they’re fairly small, which I think makes for better flavor. I tried to pick pumpkins that were heavy for their weight, so the flesh would be moist and dense. Three pumpkins yielded about 6 cups. That works out to $1.74 per 1.75 cups, and I also got about two cups of roasted pumpkin seeds out of my pumpkins. But the price per unit doesn’t factor in the time or energy costs it took to make the puree.

    So I’ll call it about even. After all, making pumpkin puree requires a fair amount of effort, while canned pumpkin has a huge convenience factor in its favor.

    Actually, because the pumpkins I bought weren’t organic, the canned pumpkin probably costs less. But as far as I know, pumpkins are pretty low risk when it comes to pesticide and fertilizer residue. Plus, fresh pumpkin tastes phenomenal and canned pumpkin raises BPA concerns for me.

    Want to try it for yourself? Here’s how I made my pumpkin puree:

    Homemade Pumpkin Puree
    Makes about 2 cups per pumpkin

    Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut a small sugar pumpkin in half. Scoop out the seeds and strings, saving the seeds if desired. Place the pumpkin cut side down on a lined baking sheet and bake for 45 to 60 minutes, or until you can easily insert a knife through the pumpkin.

    Remove the pumpkin from the oven and let cool on the pan for about 30 minutes.

    Place a food mill fitted with the smallest blade over a large bowl. Scoop the pumpkin flesh out of the shell and transfer to food mill. Pass the pumpkin through the food mill, scraping down the side but not pushing the pumpkin through the holes. Use the puree as you would canned pumpkin.

    Note: I have a food mill from my homemade baby food days, so that’s what I used. It makes for a nice puree that still has a bit of texture, but if you don’t have a food mill, I *think* you should be okay with a food processor. Speaking of baby food, you could mix the puree with some applesauce, or add in a little cinnamon to give your baby a new taste.

    Roasted Pumpkin Seeds

    Separate the pumpkin seeds from the strings but do not wash them (they have a lot more flavor this way). Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil per cup of seeds and sprinkle with fine sea salt to taste. Spread the seeds out in a single layer on a lined baking sheet and bake at 300 degrees for approximately two hours or until golden brown, stirring every half hour.

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